Montana Highway Patrol/ Law Enforcement file

Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Bertie Lau arrests a man for a DUI on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, on U.S. Highway 287.

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Montana has the worst laws for combating drunken driving.

That’s according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s recent report rating each state in five categories that the national organization says are key to eliminating drunk driving.

“Montana has done little to reduce drunk driving” since 2003, said MADD’s 2018 Report to the Nation released earlier this year.

The report scored states with a star rating, with five stars being the best.

The organization rated Montana with just a half star, the lowest rating of any state.

“The fact that Montana is rated by MADD as the lowest in the nation in overall legislative measures and progress toward ending drunk driving is not a surprise to us and is also not something we’re proud of,” said Kelley Parker-Wathne, coordinator of the Gallatin County DUI Task Force.

Among the categories MADD used to rank states were if states held sobriety checkpoints or required ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders, both of which Montana does not.

Ignition interlock devices are breathalyzers installed in DUI offenders’ vehicles that require drivers to give a breath sample before the vehicle will start. While in Montana, interlocks are ordered for repeat DUI offenders, they are not mandatory for first offenses.

Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MADD noted that there is a 67 percent reduction in recidivism when interlocks are used. And a University of Pennsylvania study found that all-offender ignition interlock laws would reduce drunk driving deaths by 15 percent nationwide.

Currently, 30 states and Washington, D.C., require interlocks for all drunk drivers.

The categories MADD used to rank states are part of the organization’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, which they call a blueprint to end drunk driving deaths.

The initiatives of the campaign include increasing the use of well-publicized sobriety check points, getting laws passed in all 50 states that require ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders, advancing technology such as driverless vehicles and ramping up public support.Following Montana on the bottom end of the rankings were Michigan with one star and Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Rhode Island and Iowa with one and a half stars each.The five highest rated states included Arizona, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada and West Virginia, which MADD gave each four and a half stars.

Montana continues to lead the nation in rates of drunken driving deaths. A report released earlier this year by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration showed that, based on data from 2016, Montana had the highest alcohol-impaired driving fatality percentage with 45 percent of deadly crashes involving at least one driver whose blood alcohol content was higher than the legal limit of 0.08.

Last year, of the 187 fatalities on Montana roads, 66 involved alcohol and 55 involved drugs, according to the Montana Highway Patrol.

As for MADD’s report, MHP Col. Tom Butler said the organization has a national perspective, but all the solutions it discussed would require action by the Montana Legislature and MADD “doesn’t sometimes recognize that all politics are local.”

In last year’s legislative session, Missoula Democrat Sue Malek sponsored a bill that proposed replacing periods of driver’s license suspension following a DUI conviction with a mandatory interlock-restricted license for first and second offense DUI offenses.

Proponents, including MADD, said at the time that interlocks help protect both the public and the offender, noting that between 2006 and 2016, interlocks in Montana stopped roughly 5,300 attempts by drivers to drive drunk.

The bill, however, died after it was tabled in the House Judiciary Committee.

Butler said ignition interlocks pose a challenge in a rural Montana and aren’t necessarily the answer for reducing drunk driving deaths.

Many Montana families have multiple vehicles, making it easy for an offender to get around driving in one that has the device. And with the rural nature of the state, it can be difficult for offenders to travel to get the devices installed or repaired if need be.

“The geography and population creates some significant problems for interlocks,” he said.

Plus, Butler said, while he said he’s seen positive impacts in the short term, he’s seen no studies that show whether interlocks have impacts on recidivism in the long term.

”It’s important in the criminal justice arena to make sure we’re putting our efforts towards something that’s going to have a long-term benefit,” Butler said.

Parker-Wathne said the fact that Montana fails to use DUI checkpoints and ignition interlocks, along with any other available option, is “very unfortunate.”

”The bottom line is we need to get on par with the rest of the nation who are doing more and whose efforts are paying off. Losing even one life is one too many,” she said.

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Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

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